Artist Tigre Mashaal-Lively talks with Southwest Contemporary about the burning of The Solacii sculpture, which was destroyed in a suspected arson outside of Santa Fe’s form & concept gallery.
SANTA FE, NM—A local contemporary art gallery continues its public stand against violence in response to the destruction of an outdoor sculpture earlier this month. The apparent arson, which remains under investigation as of press time, is also drawing increased attention to the role and safety of public art in Santa Fe.
Surveillance footage from approximately 11:30 pm Saturday, August 21, shows an unidentified person setting fire to The Solacii, a twenty-one-foot-tall sculpture outside of form & concept gallery, located near the corner of Guadalupe and Read streets in downtown Santa Fe. Firefighters extinguished the blaze within twenty minutes, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican.
As of Monday, no suspects had been identified. According to news reports, the Santa Fe Police Department, which didn’t respond to Southwest Contemporary’s request for comment, is investigating the fire as arson.
New Mexico-based artist Tigre Mashaal-Lively, in collaboration with Anastazia Louise Aranaga and Gala Aranaga, created the sculpture, which was unveiled to the public on July 30, 2021. Southwest Contemporary published an article about the artwork in April of this year, describing it as “a sanctuary for the times, offering a space that cultivates solace for grief and inspiration for survival.”
Mashaal-Lively, a founding member of northern New Mexico-focused Earthseed Black Arts Alliance, originally created and conceived of The Solacii (which means “solace” in Latin) in 2017 as a Burning Man project for which the artist received a Burning Man honorarium grant.
“The Solacii is a queer and Afrofuturist expression of comfort and solace by a local artist of color, and its burning is an undeniable act of violence against the artist and a considerable cross-section of their community,” writes form & concept in a prepared statement the day after the incident.
The fire consumed the soft textile garments that cloaked the metal armature. The garments, which numbered in the hundreds, had been donated by people in the community and each carried a strong emotional significance—some were favorite articles of clothing worn by loved ones who had died.
“Lately it had been feeling as though something was coalescing at the gallery around queer artists and queer curatorial efforts,” says Jordan Eddy, director of form & concept gallery, in an interview with Southwest Contemporary. “The Solacii had become a rallying point; it truly was an expression of solace. And as a queer curator, it was incredibly meaningful for me that the gallery and its owner supported it. So this act of violence felt like a challenge to that, even if the perpetrator didn’t know.”
This is the second time that Mashaal-Lively’s public artwork has been vandalized. Mashaal-Lively says that the O’Gah Po’Geh Altar Project, a multicultural community collaborative piece that was on display at Santa Fe Railyard Park from September 2020 through March 2021, was defaced a few times, “with the most egregious act of destruction coming about a week before we were scheduled to deinstall in the spring,” Mashaal-Lively explains. It is not yet known if the two incidents are connected.
“It’s so easy to get caught in that vortex of questioning why, so I am trying to let that go. I have no way of knowing,” says Mashaal-Lively.
The artist, who uses they/them pronouns, expressed deep gratitude for the outpouring of community support, saying that it has kept them grounded during “a rollercoaster of a week.”
“It has been a powerful experience to come to understand that people appreciate my work,” says Mashaal-Lively. “It has been healing to know that what I am putting into the community is valued.”
“And,” they add, “The Solacii has always been about adaptation and healing.”
The sculpture was scheduled to be on view through the remainder of the year, and public programming was in development. “Any time public art is presented, there are issues of vulnerability and risk and engagement with public discourse in new and different ways,” notes Eddy. “How do we present public art that is accessible?”
For now, the gallery, Mashaal-Lively, and the other artists who have been involved with creating the artwork are in conversation about next steps. “We are committed to continuing the project and the story of The Solacii,” says Mashaal-Lively.